"Willie Wonka didn't employ Noel Curran"...that says it all.
It is beautiful. It is kindness and it illustrates a way deeper connection than we even understood. As I said to Michael, we waited to see every last one of you, every single week. We knew your habits, what time you would show up. We missed ye when ye didn't come. 😁
Dear Sheena, It is 2.00am on Thursday night in Calgary, Canada. One hour ago, I woke up and thankfully checked my Facebook page. I saw on my feed that there was a notification from you regarding the lovely note you received from Ronan Daly. Anytime I see a notification from you / involving you, I always go straight to it. Ronan’s post was profoundly moving, having known him for many years, it was genuinely authentic. Some of the key messages he referenced (the smell of ‘fags and acoustic guitars’, your big smile, how warm the shop was on a cold, wet winters day, quickening the pace leading up to the shop and generally how welcoming the staff at Crowley’s always were) resonated with me big time. That post started my mind racing and sent me on a trip down memory lane for the next hour until I finally got up out of bed to get this down in writing. Most of my thoughts and memories ranged from 1993 to 2007 when I bought my first and last guitar in Crowley’s music shop. Like Ronan, I have such fond memories of the trips to Cork doing the rounds of the music shops (more on that later). I typically went on my own or dragged my non-musician friends over to McCurtain St. so I could experience ‘the shop’. For me it was like going into Willie Wonka’s Chocolate factory, except Willie Wonka didn’t employ Noel Curran.
Crowley’s I was obsessed with music before and after I bought my first Hohner Rockwood bass from Brian Calnan in 1993. I believe Brian worked there on a part-time basis before making the move to Jeffers sometime later. The bass was one hundred and twenty-nine pounds and weighed a ton, but I loved it. I think I looked at it for weeks before begging my parents to contribute to the money I had saved up. The deal was struck as long as I learned ‘properly’, meaning I had to go and learn classical guitar. My parents were sceptical after wasting years of tuition on Piano (understandably). That bass was the first of many purchases in Crowley’s and everything I bought there comes with great memories. At that time, I also bought a beginner 'Learn to Play Bass' book which I demolished every night…. Whether you were arsing around or were genuinely eyeing up something to buy in Crowley’s, you were always treated the same, which in hindsight is amazing. Hundreds of thousands of pounds on the walls and every yoke of a musician comes in with belt buckles, ranging from teenagers to auld fellas, each with a different attitude and outlook on how to treat instruments. I think for the most part the ‘cast’ at Crowley’s commanded respect by the way they treated people and by the atmosphere that was created. I still remember the feeling of anticipation walking up to the door, knowing you would walk down that ramp, hear the bell at the door and sometimes get a look from the musos inside and that ‘welcome smile’ from Sheena as Ronan referenced in his post. You also knew you would be greeted with a cacophony of drums, lovely acoustic guitar playing or inevitably some young fella playing 'Enter Sandman' or some fella playing the banjo in the corner. That coupled with the atmosphere really was a play on the senses. While I’m sure there was a whole host of different music playing in the shop over the years, what sticks out for me was the ‘Best of JJ Cale’. I didn’t know much about JJ Cale before hearing him in Crowley’s. I have loved him ever since. Occasionally, Declan Sinnott would wander in and play, I used to hang around him like a bad smell without trying to appear too obvious. I was always a huge fan of his and would listen to him play tunes or doodle on many instruments, I was always wondering which instrument he would pick up next, great, great time. I still remember the décor well in the shop, the timber panelling and worn-out floors from the traffic, the staff were always rearranging and tinkering with the set up which I loved. Other instruments I bought in Crowley’s: • A beautiful Furch acoustic guitar together with a pickup (fitted by Steve Nixon). • A lovely high-end acoustic amp (the name escapes me, it is still in Ireland in my parent's house) • A Fender Precision Lyte black metallic bass. It was a real 90’s bass which I played in the early days of the Bleeding blues. . Another lovely timber finished bass, again I can't think of the name of it but I played it for years. • A gorgeous fender custom shop jazz bass which was alas the last bass I bought in the shop.
Mick. Mick was the real deal. I thought him stern at first, probably because he was an imposing figure with his height. I always remember he had a great selection of jumpers, lots of greys and browns with patterns. Mick was a very patient man. Like millions before and after me, I asked Mick twice about the story of Rory Gallagher buying the guitar from him all those years ago. Mick always told that story enthusiastically and I used to often eavesdrop to hear him tell it ‘again’ in the background to some other interested patron. Any time I used to walk down that little ramp Sheena would mostly be in her seat behind the counter or rearranging books that some stupid teenager (like me) messed up on the book stands on the right as you went in. While Mick would always seem to be tinkering with a Banjo, some pipes, a mandolin or hearing out some customer who came to him with a query on their instruments. He seemed proficient at many instruments which I always thought was cool. Mick was patient and never told me that I couldn’t play a certain instrument because it was too expensive, the same could not be said for some of the other music shops in the city. Bill and Pat would be up your arse if you looked sideways at a guitar in Parnell place.
Sheena The big smile, that mass of curly hair, Sheena was always the main greeter in the shop and always went out of her way to make people feel welcome. It is so great to see that still happens for those lucky to be connected to her on Facebook or following ‘The Island of music’. I love the way Sheena conducts her interviews on the YouTube channel. It is so genuine and her love for all things music and in particular ‘Cork music’ is so great. I love how Sheena continually pays tribute to her Dad and is tireless in her pursuits in maintaining a community in Cork. Another thing that came into my mind over the last hour was while it seemed every musician in Cork did ‘impressions’ of some of the local caricatures that worked in the other shops, the folks at Crowley’s were off-limits. Again, I think this was a respect thing, you get back what you give.
Noel Curran While I always really liked Trevor and the rest of the gang, I used to always gravitate to Noel. I loved his mullet and the fact he just loved all things music and Crowley’s. I believe there were many days in there that Noel would be on a day off but still be in there playing guitars. Noel probably thought I was nuts but any time I wanted to buy something I would always want to play it but I would always want him to play it for me too just so I could hear what it sounded like when he played it. Noel would always set you up, plug in the instrument and come back with a few thoughts in between dealing with other customers. He would always show you the alternatives, talk you through everything you needed and wanted to know but was never pushy. I particularly liked in the early to mid-2000s when the Fender custom shop line were big hits in Crowley’s, I knew I would eventually buy one but it took until 2007 to build up the cash. That was a lovely experience, probably because I decided over four or five trips to Crowley’s, worth the price of the bass alone.
The ‘other’ music shops While Pro-musica, Jeffers, Russell’s were based closer to the city, none of them came close to Crowley’s. The choice was not as good, the atmosphere could not compare, the welcome one got from the Crowley’s ‘family’ was simply great. I even worked in Jeffers for 2 weeks on my transition year experience, I should have asked you, Sheena, I would have benefitted greatly from the continual banter about music, musicians, guitars, cork city and the family-type setting that was created amongst the staff. In closing, I would have loved to have contributed to Mick’s anniversary playlist but alas I do not play anymore. I love what you are doing and really miss the one on one interviews you have conducted with many of the musicians I love, like and respect. That truly was a gorgeous series. I was as guilty as any musician was and the reason why Crowley’s music shop and other local businesses could not survive. I took for granted that the shop would always be there and fell for the convenience of ordering online for perhaps a few quid cheaper. It is sad that institutions like Crowley’s aren’t around anymore, but the memories will always stay with me. It reminds me of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it's gone”. Thank you, Sheena, Mick, Trevor, Noel, and staff for the impression you created on me. It really did leave its mark. All the best, Michael j Creedon. There he is in front of all the class musicians of Cork.